The Green New Deal

Momentum has been gaining over the past several years over Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investing considerations.  Initially reserved for ‘sin’ stocks (tobacco, alcohol and gambling), this movement has evolved to encompass a wide array of ethically questionable, albeit legal, activities including guns and ammunition, farming practices and corporate benefits to name a few.  Notably with the release of the release of the United Nations’ Global Warming of 1.5°C report on October 8, 2018, a renewed emphasis has been heard from some parts of the community, particularly as related to environmental issues.

I first touched on the issue of moral investing last June in concert with the border issues and Paul Tudor Jones’ initiation of the JUST ETF.  Other than a cursory acknowledgement, only one purchase (and no divestments) were performed with ESG in mind. The sole activity being the purchase of Amalgamated Bank (AMAL).  Further deconstruction questioned whether the JUST approach was only a ‘Greenwash’.

Over on the other side of the pond, there has been more angst and soul-searching, my guess as to the cause – a greater formalization of constructive movement towards some of the goals, such as Germany’s coal phase out.  To this end, one of the better posts explaining investing issues and alternatives surrounding ESG is Mindy’s as she performs her due diligence. With the dizzying array of options available, especially when ala carte choices are included, no wonder her “… brain tends to fog over when thinking about investments.

Then again, there’s always the well-reasoned do-nothing approach proposed by Ditch the Cave.  His reasoning follows a similar vein to that of Pitchfork Economics in that the basis of ownership is an event providing no direct benefit to the corporation.  While this is true, I would further add that any ownership stake that most of us could amass would be so minuscule as to be less than a rounding error on the corporate books.

Another school of thought – and more the focus of this piece – comes from DIY Investor (UK) who is currently repositioning his portfolio, in theory, to one less damaging to the climate.  At the very least, it provides comfort that his efforts are doing a small part in contributing to the betterment of society. I have minimal or no debate with his conclusions as we’re dealing with probabilities rather than certainties.  My quibble is with a portion of his analysis – primarily due to the emotional level of the debate on these issues. In my opinion, to present a case inclusive of incorrect – or incomplete – data provides an opportunity for detractors to seize upon and raise questions concerning the legitimacy of the remaining thesis.

Perhaps I was mistaken for a ‘detractor’ when we engaged last week as my comment of:

I applaud your research and investing convictions.  However some conclusions you arrive at may be somewhat flawed.

1) The ‘Green New Deal’ has climate change as only one element. It is too broad an endeavor to gain much traction. A better play would’ve been to select one or two of the contained issues to focus on.

2) The PG&E bankruptcy filing had ‘probable’ equipment malfunction as a cause of the deadly forest fire. Climate change was not listed as a factor, although I would suspect it was a contributor. The article referenced was an editorial (opinion) – not necessarily a factual piece.

3) To take asset managers to task is misguided, I believe. Their growth is largely due to the rise in passive investing (ETFs). Although they are listed as ‘registered owners’ it is on behalf of ‘beneficial owners’, i.e., the vast majority of individual investors with ETFs in their portfolio

The response provided was:

Thanks for your observations Charlie. I may be misguided but I would err on the side of caution with fossil fuel investments. You may have read about the decision by the worlds largest sovereign wealth fund to divest out of 134 of its oil exploration holdings.  The writing is clearly on the wall for everyone to see (or ignore).

So let’s break apart my objections.

  1. The Green New Deal can best be described as aspirational at best and is highly unlikely to be passed in any manner close to its’ current form. The essence of the resolution is to re-engage in the Paris Accord, ensure existing laws (particularly Labor and EPA) are strengthened or adhered to, strengthen laws pertaining to collective bargaining and improve the economy with a focus on infrastructure.  The one piece with any short term chance of passing is infrastructure as it melds with Trump’s economic priorities. Regardless, it remains too lacking in focus to be a viable basis for investment decisions.
  2. The PG&E filing was based on California law that holds a company liable for claims even when fault is not proven (one of the reasons I rarely invest in California).  It appears the direct cause was ‘equipment malfunction’ predicating the filing. His claim that the filing was due to global warming may be partially true but is based on an op-ed (opinion) piece in the LA Times.
  3. His quest against asset managers is akin to tilting at windmills for two reasons.  The majority of ETFs are rules based and merely a reflection of the base rule or index.  If the index is MSCI managed the determination would need to be made by MSCI – not the asset manager.  If the index was based on the S&P 500, the questionable company would need to be removed from the S&P before it would be reflected in the underlying index.  A more jermain reason is that asset managers based in the US (like Blackrock, Vanguard, Fidelity, et.al.) are required to adhere to a higher, government mandated, standard as related to shareholder engagement activities (activism).  To do otherwise would jeopardize their business model.

If engagement were to be considered, who would be the target?  Would it be a broad-brush approach or be laser focused? I mentioned MSCI earlier.  Would they get a pass as they create and manage indexes addressing both investing styles?  Or would their inclusion of questionable companies in some indexes place a target squarely on their backs?  I alluded to this type of inequity in my final sentence to DIY, “The quandary I encounter in my research are undefined secondary impacts. One example being solar. A by-product of manufacturing is silicon tetra-chloride. Therefore, is solar really green?”  The answer is a resounding yes, but, maybe ….

To make the implication that I’m a non-believer reinforces my contention that DIY Investor (UK) has a tendency to mold a conclusion based on opinions rather than facts.  The reality is that I have been looking at this type of strategy since at least 2015. One doesn’t have to look any further than the comment stream of one of Roadmap2Retire’s oldies but goodies on the renewable topic.  Today, the investing landscape in this space remains as muddled as ever and additional elements, perhaps brought into the spotlight by the Green New Deal, are being included. My concern is that this broadness will be result in its failure.  Call me a pragmatist, but current iterations include everything but the kitchen sink. You may also call me overly cautious, but not a naysayer.

The one investment on my watchlist that appears to meet much of the criteria is Brookfield Renewable Partners (BEP) with my core issues being valuation, debt and the K-1.  Therefore, on my watchlist it remains.

The one certainty continues to be each and every investor has their own core sets of values and beliefs – meaning that arriving at a consensus approach is unlikely at this time. I do have to applaud the energy and research being applied by newer investors coupled with their desire to invest in a manner matching their ideals.  For that is what will ultimately result in the world being a better place.

With that, I’ll get down off my soapbox and let you all have your turn 🙂

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Moral Investing

Making the headlines this past week was the atrocious scene along our border.  Being an event driven investor, I had to at least take a look at the situation to – at a minimum – determine my exposure and whether strategy adjustments are  necessary.

I’m not a prude by any stretch of the imagination but (outside of ETFs) have never invested in tobacco stocks.  I have minimal exposure to wine and spirits.  While I’m not casting aspersions on those that do, I figure there are more than enough alternatives that better fit my preferences.

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November 2017 Update

The upward trend continued this month fueled by the progress on the tax plan.  If finalized, my guess is that the first half of 2018 will be good for corporations (i.e., dividends) with reality setting in later in the year that the average consumer received a raw deal and has less disposable income than advertised.  That is unless trickle down really works.  The wild card being the government (or lack thereof) as a second felony plea was accepted with individuals tied to the campaign or administration.  The S&P index increased by 2.81% while my portfolio increased by 3.22% largely fueled by Financials.  For the year I’m still ahead of the index by 3.12%.

Headlines impacting my portfolio (bold are owned):

  • 11/1 – OMI buys HYH‘s Surgical and Infection Prevention (S&IP) business
  • 11/2 – SBUX sells Tazo line to UL
  • 11/6 – AVGO bids to acquire QCOM at $60 cash & $10 stock per share
  • 11/6 – BCE acquiring ARFCF
  • 11/9 – AAPL acquires InVisage Technologies
  • 11/13 – GE cuts dividend by 50%
  • 11/13 – AMT buys Idea/VOD Cellular towers in India
  • 11/13 – VER selling Cole Capital to CIM Group
  • 11/14 – Baupost Group initiates 3,565,361 sh position (abt 6.25%) in AMC
  • 11/14 – MSG to sell WNBA team (Liberty)
  • 11/15 – SQ launches ability to buy and sell Bitcoin
  • 11/16 – PYPL sells $5.8B loan package to SYF
  • 11/16 – IRM buys China assets from SFG.CO
  • 11/20 – MSG acquires Obscura Digital
  • 11/27 – PNC acquires The Trout Group, LLC
  • 11/28 – BLK to acquire C‘s Mexican asset management business

Portfolio Updates:

  • increased position in existing DRE holding

Dividends:

  • November delivered an increase of 18.3% Y/Y with the about 60% of the increase being attributable dividend increases and the remainder purchases.
  • November delivered a 1.0% decrease over last quarter (August) due to two payouts being moved to December.
  • Declared dividend increases averaged 11.9% with 71.75% of the portfolio delivering at least one increase (including 2 cuts (XRX and YUM) and and 1 suspension (TIS)).  Note: GE’s announced cut is counted as 2018.
  • YTD dividends received were 109.86% of total 2016 dividends which exceeded last years’ total on October 25th.

Spinoffs:

Spirit Realty Capital (SRC) – Nov 21, Form 10 was filed confidentially with spin completion targeted for 1H 2018.

Mergers:

AGU/POT (Nutrien) remains pending with the US being the only approval pending.

Summary

My 2018 strategy is forming with the focus turning towards Consumer Staples and Utilities (existing holdings).  I expect to incorporate a side strategy on lower yielding but faster growing companies which I’ll publish in the next week or two.   Of course I will continue to also pursue opportunities as they arise.

And how was your month?

Insider Dealing?

The news cycle appears to be churning ever faster.  Whether as a reaction to events, an attempt to manage the narrative or obscure the message is a debate that will occur for some time with the real answer becoming apparent in the hindsight of history.  Not to minimize the Charlottesville tragedy or the headline grabbing Bannon ouster, but these stories are playing out in several flavors depending on the source.  As one who attempts to discern the impact of issues on my investments, two (possible) financial headlines crossed my desk amid the other events that intrigued me.

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2017 Mid Year Correction

Each year I establish a basic plan to govern my investing activity based on sectors, segments or locales able to deliver a little alpha to my portfolio.  The past couple of years had a focus on the Financial industry with the outcome being rewarded with mergers (small banks) and outsized dividend increases (money center banks).  I also began increasing my Canadian allocation in 2015 from 2.5% of my dividends to the current 8.6%.  Since the election, I was accelerating the increase in my other foreign holdings to the current 13.6% on two theories, 1) gridlock in Congress would persist as the Republican majority would be too narrow to push through sweeping changes, and 2) this inaction would result in a weaker dollar.  It appears I was correct on both counts as the US dollar is now at an eight month low.

With my alpha agendas now too pricey (at least for slam dunk results), a re-prioritization is in order. With the Fed Chairs’ testimony this week indicating that GDP growth of 3% would be difficult, the Trump agenda which projects a higher growth rate is likely in peril – even ignoring the self-inflicted wounds.  Without an improvement in the GDP, deficit hawks will be circling.  It is likely the last half of the year will present some opportunities, but my view these will be predicated on external events.  My eyes will remain open to the USD exchange rate – on strength I may buy foreign issues.

My portfolio allocation between holdings labeled Anchor, Core and Satellite have been imbalanced for a year or two primarily due to merger activity and the acceleration of adding foreign issues.  Now that the major mergers have completed, the last this past January, and other alternatives are slim, I figure it’s time to get back to basics.

My going forward strategy can be summarized as follows:

  1. Non-US equities when secured at a favorable exchange rate
    a)I have 2 Japanese, 2 Swiss, 1 UK and 1 Swedish company on my watch list in the event an attractive price presents itself
  2. Assess corporate actions (spins, splits, mergers) for opportunities
    a) Generally I’m agnostic to splits except when the result would be a weird fractional.  I can easily manage tenths or hundredths of shares.  Smaller sizes are troublesome so I avoid when possible.
    b) Spins (and mergers) are assessed to prevent (if possible) weird fractionals.  For instance, I added to my MET position earlier this month as their spin will be at a ratio of 11:1 which would have otherwise delivered a weird fractional.
  3. Assess portfolio for average down and other opportunities
    a) An example of this was last months’ purchase of KSU.  To this end, I recently updated my Dividends (Div Dates) Google sheet to flag when the current price is lower than my cost basis.
    b) An example of “Other Opportunities” would be BCBP which is resident in my Penalty Box due to dilution.  The dilution (secondary) might be explained (now) with their announced acquisition of the troubled IA Bancorp.  If the regulators provide their seal of approval, it may be time to remove BCBP from Penalty status and perhaps add to this 3.5% yielder.
  4. Add to holdings that are below target weighting
    a) This is where I expect most of my second half activity to reside.

Of my 26 stocks labeled Anchor, Core or Satellite; 5 can be considered at their target weight (within .5% of the target) and 4 I consider to be overweight.  The remaining 17 will receive most of my attention.  As most of these rarely go on sale, I’ll likely ignore price and place a higher priority on yield and events – at least until I’ve exceeded last years’ total dividends.

The following table highlights this portion of my portfolio:

JAN/APR/JUL/OCT

COMPANY TYPE PORT DIV%
Kimberley-Clark/KMB A-(6%) 4.01%
First of Long Island/FLIC C-(3%) 0.85%
Sysco/SYY C-(3%) 1.81%
Bank of the Ozarks/OZRK C-(3%) 0.67%
PepsiCo/PEP S-(1.5%) 1.51%
First Midwest/FMBI S-(1.5%) 0.3%
Comcast/CMCSA S-(1.5%) 8.32%
Toronto-Dominion/TD S-(1.5%) 1.58%
NOTE: Not all payment schedules coincide completely

FEB/MAY/AUG/NOV

COMPANY TYPE PORT DIV%
Clorox/CLX A-(6%) 3.68%
PNC Financial Services/PNC C-(3%) 0.30%
Legacy Texas Financial/LTXB C-(3%) 1.48%
Starbucks/SBUX C-(3%) 1.07%
Blackstone/BX S-(1.5%) 2.58%
Apple/AAPL S-(1.5%) 1.26%
Lakeland Bancorp/LBAI S-(1.5%) 1.04%
Webster Financial/WBS S-(1.5%) 0.82%
NOTE: Not all payment schedules coincide completely

MAR/JUN/SEP/DEC

COMPANY TYPE PORT DIV%
WEC Energy/WEC A-(6%) 5.61%
3M/MMM C-(3%) 0.76%
Home Depot/HD C-(3%) 7.32%
Blackrock/BLK C-(3%) .22%
ADP/ADP C-(3%) 1.60%
Southside Bancshares/SBSI S-(1.5%) 0.96%
Chevron/CVX S-(1.5%) 9.52%
Norfolk Southern/NSC S-(1.5%) 1.99%
Flushing Financial Corp/FFIC S-(1.5%) 0.99%
Wesbanco/WSBC S-(1.5%) 1.14%
NOTE: Not all payment schedules coincide completely

I will provide the caveat that this plan is subject to not only the whims of  the market but of my own as well.  In addition, this plan may be changed if/when a better idea comes along.

March 2017 Update

March brought us the longest DOW losing streak in five and a half years on the heels of the first legislative defeat of the Trump administration.  The talking heads then moved their focus to the “end of the earnings recession”.  Frankly, I think as long as the US dollar remains strong, earnings will continue to suffer – except for domestically focused companies.  As a leading indicator to this thesis, I would point to the slowing growth in dividend increases as a proxy.  Regardless, the S&P closed the month down .04% while my portfolio rebounded ending the month up 3.3%.  At the end of the first quarter, I lead the S&P by 1.35%.

Headlines impacting my portfolio:

  • 3/1 – SQ buys OrderAhead (pvt)
  • 3/6 – FMBI acquires Premier Asset Mgmt, LLC
  • 3/9 – BR acquires Message Automation, Ltd.
  • 3/13 – BUSE acquiring MDLM
  • 3/16 – MMM acquiring Scott Safety from JCI
  • 3/16 – Fed lowers barriers for <$100B bank mergers
  • 3/20 – UL reviewing sale of spreads line
  • 3/23 – BLK buys 5% stake in NTDOY
  • 3/27 – BLL sells paint can line to BWAY Holding
  • 3/27 – DST buys remaining UK JVs from STT
  • 3/27 – SGBK to merge with HOMB
  • 3/28 – KO and KOF close on AdeS line purchase from UL
  • 3/29 – MA acquires NuData Security
  • 3/30 – CM increases offer for PVTB

Portfolio Updates:

  • Added to BCE
  • Added to SQ
  • Added to KO
  • Added to TD
  • Initiated position in AKO.B

Dividends:

  • March delivered an increase of 9.15% over March 2016.  2.24% of this increase is attributable to purchases with the remaining 97.76% a result of dividend increases.  The Y/Y comparison is a little distorted as four companies shifted pay dates and one special dividend did not reoccur.
  • March had an increase of 6.44% over the prior quarter.  This was primarily due to a pay date shift as a result of a merger.
  • Declared dividend increases averaged 7.75% with 36.42% of my portfolio delivering at least one raise (1 cut – YUM).
  • YTD Dividends received were 27.1% of total 2016 dividends.  If the current run rate is maintained would exceed 2016 around October 15th – particularly with most of my semi-annual or interim/final cycles paying during the next quarter.

Spinoffs:

The MET spin (Brighthouse Financial – BHF) remains pending.

Mergers:

Agrium/POT, JNS/HGG.L and SGBK.HOMB remain pending

Jan 2017 Update

January saw DOW 20,000 being attained before dropping under once again.  The post inauguration euphoria  beat a hasty retreat in the wake of record protests, a wave of executive orders and a record number of lawsuits filed against a president in his first eleven days.  In finance terms, this uncertainty translated into concerns about the the ability or  time required to effect change through the legislative process – in particular tax reform.  This month The S&P gained 1.79%.  while my portfolio recorded a gain of 3.51% largely due to the final significant merger completing.  After a great 2016, I’m making some changes in my 2017 strategy that will (hopefully) accelerate performance in 2018.  Meanwhile I’ll be content with a slight win versus the S&P this year.

Headlines impacting my portfolio:

  • 1/5 – WMT ends V ban in Canada
  • 1/9 – SBUX discontinues Evenings concept
  • 1/10 – NWBI divests MD assets to SHBI
  • 1/13 – LSBG/BHB merger completes
  • 1/17 – ADP acquires Marcus Buckingham Co.
  • 1/20 – IRM acquires Kane Office Archives LLC through BK court
  • 1/23 – AMC acquires Nordic Cinema
  • 1/24 – Executive order moving Keystone (TRP) forward signed
  • 1/25 – DOW 20,000
  • 1/25 – BLK moves 1T$ from STT to JPM
  • 1/26 – JNJ to acquire ALIOY then spin R&D unit to ALIOY shareowners
  • 1/30 – GDOT buys UniRush (RushCard)
  • 1/31 – BX prices INVH IPO

Blog Updates:

posts under consideration for Feb are Methods to my Madness Pt 3 update, Anti-Trump strategy, My Coca-Cola strategy and The Commonality Between Trump and Me

Portfolio Updates:

  • Added to CLX
  • New position – CCLAY
  • New position – BHB (LSBG merger)
  • New position – SWRAY

Dividends:

  • January delivered an increase of 15.46% over January 2016.  This requires normalization due to PEP and WRE paying in January rather than December, KO paying in December rather than January and BUSE paying in February.  On a normalized basis, this represents a Y/Y increase of 3.1% which is attributable to dividend increases (Y/Y).  This means my October purchases from merger proceeds were successful in maintaining my Jan,Apr,Jul,Oct income stream.
  • January had a 3.0% increase over the prior quarter.
  • Declared dividend increases averaged 7.44% with 19.65% of my portfolio delivering at least one raise (1 cut – YUM).
  • Dividends received were 9.2% of total 2016 dividends and if the current run rate is maintained would exceed this total around October 15th.

Spinoffs:

The MET spin (Brighthouse Financial – BHF) remains pending.

Mergers:

Agrium/POT, JNS/HGG.L remain pending